It’s hard to know where to begin to discuss all the benefits of 100% grassfed to finish all natural beef. The many things it does for our health have been explored, but the societal benefits go well beyond what it does for our bodies. Let’s discuss the soil benefits of pasture and hay land.
Erosion, or loss of soil to falling rain and running water, causes soil to be our number one water pollutant by volume. This is termed sedimentation. On conservation plans written by government agencies this is actually measured in tons of soil loss per acre per year. Acceptable soil loss on these plans is typically 3 to 4 tons per acre per year in our area. Lots of farms that are based on row crops like corn and soybeans have trouble keeping their losses that low. Is it any wonder the watercourses must be continually dredged of silt to keep the barges capable of navigation?
Strip cropping, contour row cropping and no-till farming have helped reduce these to the levels we now have, which are much better than they once were since the era of “modern farming” but still much worse than what natural vegetation allows. The Natural Resources Conservation Service, (NRCS) in partnership with local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, has done much to improve our soil and water conservation efforts in this country. These units of government were actually legislated into existence in the midst of the 1930’s dust bowl. While testifying on Capitol Hill about our soil erosion problems, Soil Scientist Hugh Hammond Bennett threw back the curtains revealing a sky darkened by soil carried by the winds from hundreds of miles away where the plains were being tilled to plant crops. Unanimous legislation was passed to help form the NRCS (formerly the Soil Conservation Service).
So efforts are there to make the best of a problem situation. The fact is that row cropping is incapable of retaining soil and giving it life to the extent that a well managed pasture can. The continuous ground cover of pasture protects the soil from the falling rain and captures the energy from the sunlight all season long. As a pasture matures, it thickens and becomes more dense. Well managed pasture also improves the structure of the soil. Permanent pasture grass is actually living and growing all year long, (albeit at a much reduced rate in the winter). As it does, the roots continually grow and die off thereby increasing organic matter in the soil. Organic matter is the engine in the soil that drives all the biological activity. Soil that has been depleted of it’s organic matter must have constant chemical fertilizer inputs to continue to produce a crop.
Tillage done in the conventional manner introduces oxygen to the topsoil which “burns” organic matter releasing nutrients to the short term benefit of this year’s crop, but to the long term detriment of soil health. When organic matter is present, it gives the soil a cohesive tendency, creating structure in the soil and helping to hold it in place from the environmental effects of wind and rain. Organic matter also adds porosity to the soil, meaning it is more sponge like and capable of absorbing larger amounts of water when it rains. This is good in several ways. First it reduces water runoff, thereby reducing sedimentation. Secondly, it makes the soil more drought resistant due to the fact that a higher percentage of the rainfall is retained in the soil where it falls for later use by the growing plants. Another benefit to a high soil organic matter level is that the porosity it creates, allows the plant roots to penetrate much deeper bringing up life sustaining elements from lower in the soil profile. These deeper roots also benefit the plant in it’s search for water during the inevitable dry spells that occur from time to time. Dry conditions are the primary limiter of summertime grass production.